Physical activity has a beneficial effect on bone development in circumpubertal children, although its effect on younger children is uncertain. In this cross-sectional study, we examined associations between physical activity and bone measures in 368 preschool children (mean age: 5.2 years, range: 4–6 years).
Physical activity was measured using 4-day accelerometry readings, parental report of children's usual physical activity, and parental report of children's hours of daily television viewing. Total body and site-specific bone mineral content and area bone mineral density (BMD) were measured by dual energy radiograph absorptiometry.
After adjustment for age and body size, accelerometry measures of physical activity and parental report of usual physical activity were consistently and positively associated with bone mineral content and BMD in both boys and girls (r = 0.15–0.28). Television viewing was inversely associated with hip BMD in girls (r = −0.15). The proportion of variance in bone measures explained by physical activity in linear regression models ranged fromr2 = 1.5% to 9.0%. In all of these models except total body BMD, at least 1 and often several of the physical activity variables entered as independent predictors. Activity variables most likely to enter the regression models were vigorous physical activity (as determined by accelerometry) and parental ranking of child's usual physical activity.
Findings indicate that there are statistically significant and, perhaps important, associations between physical activity and bone measures during early childhood, well ahead of the onset of peak bone mass. This would suggest that intervention strategies to increase physical activity in young children could contribute to optimal bone development.